Preparing for what La Niña might bring

Written by Amy Palser

Are there severe spring storms in Wichita’s future? KWCH meteorologist Ross Janssen says La Niña has been responsible for the frequent low temperatures this winter, and there’s no telling what it will do to spring storm season.

“And that fact alone is why there’s a possible chance to have severe weather this spring,” Janssen said.

La Niña was the likely cause of severe tornadoes in the United States in spring of 2011 in the Midwestern and Southern United States, including the Joplin, Mo., tornado that killed 158 people. So the best course of action, Janssen said, is to brush up on safety procedures for you and your family.

“Most people think, ‘It will never happen to me. I never thought it could happen here.’ The best measures are to be prepared,” he said, and Severe Weather Awareness Week March 4–10 is an ideal time to do that.

When severe weather looms, folks should get to a basement or below ground; if that’s not possible, head for a closet or bathroom. A bathtub is a good place to ride out a severe storm in a house without a basement.

“When I go out and do school visits and talk to second- and third-graders, I always tell them grab as many pillows and blankets as you can,” he said. “It’s not the pressure change in a tornado, it’s not the speed of the wind, it’s everything that’s flying around in a tornado that gets people.”

If you’re in a vehicle when severe weather strikes, slow down but keep moving. Pulling over to the side of the road creates a clog in traffic and can cause accidents. Seeking shelter under a highway overpass is a bad idea, too, Janssen said, and stay in your car.

“In a tornado situation people should never climb that embankment,” he said. “The winds are actually stronger than if they were to get into a ditch.”

New technology

Thanks to new satellite technology, the KWCH weather team is able to see developing thunderstorms as much as 5–10 minutes before they show up on radar.

“We can actually get pictures of space that come in every 30 seconds to one minute,” he said. “We’re seeing things we haven’t been able to see before. That gives us a head start to notify the public before stuff starts getting crazy.”

New technology has also made tornado sirens more effective.

“It used to be all or none, but the advances in technology have allowed us to single out different sirens that are more in line with where the storm is moving,” Janssen said. “Never before has it been more important that if you do hear the siren, you are likely in the path of the storm.”

Sirens are sounded for a drill in Wichita every Monday at noon. Sirens in Kansas will also sound at 10 a.m. March 6 as part of Severe Weather Awareness Week.

While the sirens are crucial, it’s important not to make that your main way of being notified of storms. A lot of newer homes are sound proof, lowering the chances of hearing a siren.

“I normally tell people that, especially on days where there’s a chance for thunderstorms, just have two or three ways of getting weather messages,” Janssen said.

Weather pal

Though she’s technically in semi-retirement, Janssen’s Welsh corgi, Millie, is 13 and still goes to work with him in the evenings, appearing on the 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. news broadcasts. Though she no longer accompanies Janssen on school visits, going to the station is second nature.

“She’s just grown up here, and this is a second home for her,” he said. “She’s still in good health, still likes coming to the station and hanging out, eating popcorn on the side.”

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